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The late Katie Everette Johnson did not like being saluted for her work—it was what you did, she would say, what God wanted you to do. You don’t take credit for that. So, when she learned she was named one of the New Pittsburgh Courier Women of Excellence Legacy Award winners, she had to be bullied into accepting.

Malik Bankston, executive director of the Kingsley Association, has no doubt she would feel the same about being honored with this year’s Spirit of King award—an award she was instrumental in creating nearly 30 years ago.

‘She was this diminutive woman who was a force of nature—when she talked, everyone listened.’
“She never liked taking credit—that was for other people,” said Bankston. “Her funeral was the same way. It was like she had left instructions about what you could and couldn’t do—and all with the sense that ‘this is a bit of annoyance to me but if you must do it, here are the guidelines.’ And everyone in attendance was nodding their heads saying, ‘Yep. That’s Katie.”

The Kingsley Association, the Port Authority of Allegheny County, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New Pittsburgh Courier present the Spirit of King award posthumously each year to individuals from Pittsburgh who best personify the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and who have impacted the region in the areas of civil rights, leadership, culture and education.

“This is going to be bittersweet,” Bankston told the Courier in an exclusive interview, Jan. 9. “Katie was the engine, the spark plug for this program, before I came to Kingsley. This is my 20th year doing this, and though she couldn’t attend last year, this is really the first one without her.”

Johnson said she began her civil rights mission at an early age, learning from the books her Sunday School teacher, her mother, used for class. When she joined the Urban League in the 1940s, civil rights was her job. While there, she and fellow workers organized sit-ins to desegregate a popular Downtown eatery.

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